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Just keep swimming: An architectural attitude

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SEPTEMBER 16, 2023

This semester, I feel like I’m fighting to tread above water. I’m nearly drowning in a sea of coursework from the Introduction to Visual Representation and Drawing class, which moves at such a rapid pace that I’m struggling to keep myself afloat. The class doesn’t operate on just writing two papers, one midterm, and one final. Instead, I have to complete, on average, three preliminary drawings and make three cubes — rectangular models with specified cuts, incisions, and color — each week based on them. Before making my cubes, I often stare at the example PowerPoint slides for hours without knowing how to begin. I would then have to ditch the presentation slides entirely and make models on my own. 

Sometimes, even after pulling all-nighters to finish the model, I’d still be unclear about how some of the details in my preliminary drawings could be applied to my model. I often shivered when presenting my work to the class, hoping I could devise an articulate speech on the spot and convince my GSI that I had a well-thought-out plan.

In my architecture course, I was always fighting to tread above water, as waves of deadlines kept splashing my face. Grinding on my architecture models reminds me of my competitive swimming days in high school and how it pushed me to break physical barriers relentlessly. During swim competitions, I recall the moments when I was suffocating as my body gasped for air and the numerous stomach cramps I endured while watching my opponent’s bodies bypass mine. Often, when I finished a swim race, I felt the involuntary sensation of food being propelled out of my stomach like a bullet from a rifle, piercing through the walls of my esophagus.  

Although the experiences are vastly different in many regards, architecture and swimming elicited the same kind of pressure. And both require considerable planning. 

In my architecture course, for example, all the assignments I receive require me to draw out each side of the cube on paper before building my model. When making my drawings, I must also avoid mistakes and inaccurate details because drawing a model of the cube requires me to translate lines across all its faces. Otherwise, the lines on each face wouldn’t match up, thus increasing the risk of starting all over from scratch.

Furthermore, each week’s project took my classmates and me an average of 20 hours outside of class to complete, which is more time than all my other courses combined. To avoid missing deadlines, I have to block out a certain number of hours per day to work on my models.

Similarly in swim races, I must not be concerned with the immediate pressure of falling behind — even when others surge ahead. Instead, I must focus on pacing myself well throughout the race, which becomes especially important for longer-distances. In a 400m IM, an event which consists of a 100m of each stroke — butterfly, backstroke, breathstroke, freestyle — for example, I would have to think about which stroke consumes the most energy, which requires the least, and how to spread my energy evenly throughout the event. Otherwise, I’ll run out of energy from the beginning, allowing my rivals ample time to surpass me when I feel exhausted. 

Despite the inevitable challenges of architecture and swimming, the good news is that they are equally rewarding. For example, every time I build a model in architecture, despite it not being perfect, I’ve at least created a tangible product I can present to my classmates. It’s like a gift I’ve created for myself, which I opened weekly during presentation time. Furthermore, I treated every model as a learning opportunity. I noted the mistakes I’ve made each time and learned to avoid them in the next. Although the assignments are getting more advanced each week, applying the experiences I’ve accumulated from each previous assignment makes it easier to conceptualize and build the next one. 

Just like the exhilaration I feel after I make my model, emerging from the swimming pool after a difficult race gives me a similar feeling of triumph, a thrill of overcoming what seemed like an impossible task. Although the result is not the most critical aspect of a swim race, this sensation of victory rings especially true when I climb onto the podium, thus allowing me to taste the fruits of my labor. Ultimately, it’s necessary to have foresight when I’m swimming, making architectural models, or pursuing any other endeavor. Thus far, my life has been full of these draining yet rewarding activities, and there will be more in the years to come. I tell myself that just because something isn’t working out now doesn’t mean it will be a hindrance forever. All I need to do is to convert that pressure of problem-solving into a forward-going momentum. Despite the fact that success might take time, the key is to be patient and keep swimming.

Contact Vincent Luo at 


SEPTEMBER 16, 2023